Fresh (2022)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Fear is a librarian in Western PA. You can hear her weekly on the women’s wrestling podcast Grit & Glitter, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all major platforms.

A lonely twenty-something in the Pacific Northwest is exhausted with modern dating when she meets a promising man the old fashioned way – in the produce section of her local grocery store. He’s cute, charmingly awkward and forward in that polite, self-deprecating way that puts others at ease. Their meet cute turns into a date turns into sex turns into something more, then he suggests a weekend away. That’s when things go… awry.

Fresh isn’t the first film to tackle the horrors of modern dating in a literal sense, but it comes at the idea from a novel worst case scenario: What if the too-good-to-be-true romantic interest was, in fact, a cannibal surgeon who makes a fortune off a slow, meticulous harvesting of female flesh? Instead of shacked up on a weekend away, you’re shackled in the barebones basement of his mid-century abode, left communicating through the wall with his other supply sources, the women he has previously lured into this trap. 

Remarkably assured for a debut film, Mimi Cave pulls a fun trick on her audience, playing up the fizzy, fun romance in the film’s first half hour. Only when Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) goes face first onto the carpet after being drugged by “Steve” (Sebastian Stan) does the title of the film appear, an ominous echo of the produce section where these two met cute only twenty minutes earlier. 

But instead of a complete tonal shift, Fresh finds an interesting mid-space between romantic-comedy and captive horror, releasing tension through dryly funny conversations between Noa and her fellow captive, Penny, the occasional needle-drop montage of Steve preparing his human meats, even the investigations of Mollie, who suspects something is amiss when her best friend disappears. Then one quick twist and the tension is mounting all over again.

The film is anchored by strong performances by Edgar-Jones and Stan, both of whom add tremendous layers to their characters. Stan especially seems right at home in his portrayal of an amoral murderer who is also a hopeless romantic and supreme nerd. He’s almost charismatic enough to remain so even in light of his odious nature. Almost.

Fresh is smart enough not to veer too far in humanizing its villain, preferring instead to emphasize the wit and wiles of its hero and her fellow women in peril. While this film has a lot of sardonic points to make about modern dating, its most earnest note is the bond between the women at the mercy of powerful, violent forces beyond their control. Maybe you can’t trust the guy you met in the grocery store, but your best friend is going to be there for you, come hell or high water or a cannibalistic conspiracy of the rich.

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